TV Review: “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”

“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” reminds us of a timeless message: we are all in this together, regardless of age.

What is it like when everyone sings their heart out to you? NBC’s musical comedy-drama, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” explores this question with a second extraordinary playlist in Season 2. Season 2 follows Zoey’s life in the aftermath of her father’s death from the degenerative disease, progressive supranuclear palsy. 

The premise of the show revolves around Zoey Clarke (Jane Levy), an expressive software developer at a San Francisco tech company named SPRQ Point, who finds her world changed after experiencing an earthquake while taking an MRI brain scan in Episode 1, Season 1. This accident gives her the power to understand the unspoken emotions of others around her in an especially entertaining and wholesome manner: people burst into musical numbers that express their true feelings. However, only Zoey is aware of these musical numbers performed by those around her — nobody else is able to hear or see their emotional renditions. This in turn brings up the question of whether or not these musical performances are actually occurring in real life while the other characters remain unaware, or if it all takes place inside Zoey’s head. With that said, it’s better to avoid spending time trying to understand the logistics of this special power as they do not adhere to the rules of reality and the music and dance numbers are intended for entertainment purposes, not deep scientific speculation. 

The second season continues following Zoey’s and her friends’ journeys. Max (Skylar Astin) and Mo (Alex Newell) start up a restaurant company after Max lost his job in Season 1. Zoey’s mom Maggie (Mary Steenburgen) regains her confidence at work through the support of her family. Zoey’s lawyer brother David (Andrew Leeds) and his wife Emily (Alice Lee) welcome their first newborn child. Last but not least, Zoey becomes the new floor manager responsible for leading a team of coders. The kaleidoscopic combination of authentic, intertwining stories of life pre-pandemic packs each 40-minute episode full of binge-worthy adventure. 

The musical performances featured in the show are the highlight of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” because the songs chosen are refreshingly unpredictable and match each character’s emotions very well. Additionally, Zoey’s playlist features a diverse range of songs selected from various genres, including gospel music, rock, country, and opera, with pop being the dominant genre performed by all the characters. The variety of genres engages music-lovers of all types. Furthermore, the music supports the spoken dialogue, rather than overshadowing it. To explain, musical numbers are included only when they can provide insight on a character and better emphasize what is not expressed through the spoken word.

Additionally, the musical performances flesh out the characters and make them more relatable by building up complex, well-thought-out backstories. The natural acting talent of the cast further enhances these aspects of the characters. For example, at first glance, Simon (John Clarence Stewart), Zoey’s coworker and former crush, is a considerate and chivalrous gentleman, but he’s shown to have even more emotional depth when he voices his feelings of isolation at being racially underrepresented in his company through his sentimental rendition of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by Nina Simone. Similarly, Max, Zoey’s best friend and former colleague, is the friendly “boy-next-door” but becomes more than this archetype when it is revealed that he is estranged from his dad due to not living up to his expectations, as revealed through his cover of “Numb” by Linkin Park. 

In this manner, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” evolves past its musical-dramedy label, thus becoming a show that represents all phases of life and providing a model on how to deal with heavy issues. Each character’s individual story is given ample screen time and is married into a larger, overarching narrative by Zoey’s musical mind-reading powers. Moreover, the incorporation of realistic stories feels comforting as the show features storylines that show common human experiences, such as recovering from the grief of losing a close family member, finding support when one needs it most, and gracefully dealing with job loss. On top of this, the show presents heavier storylines with care. To explain, Mo’s crisis of faith upon his discovery of his gender-fluidity is handled with as much humanity as the storyline of Simon recovering from the suicide of his father. As a result, although the show’s colorful advertisement poster and  eccentric coming-of-age-title seem to be marketed toward younger audience members. The inclusion of a wide variety of issues from different stages in life, whether heavy or more light-hearted, makes the show universally relatable to a wide audience demographic, regardless of age. 

Accordingly, the show’s comforting nature makes it the perfect pandemic binge. It’s easy to feel isolated in these times as the pandemic can make any man into an island. However, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” fosters a sense of togetherness, and through watching it, I am able to celebrate my emotions with each of its characters.

Created By: Austin Winsberg
Starring: Jane Levy, Skylar Astin, Alex Newell, John Clarence Stewart
Release Date: Jan. 5, 2021
Rated: Rated TV-14
Grade: A

Image courtesy of Deadline.

One thought on “TV Review: “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”

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